Hiromi Goto’s Half World
Penguin Books, 2009

I hope you’re not disappointed to see another instance of Spelling It Out here, so soon after that on Sarah Waters, but I have fallen under yet another BookSpell.

I admit, I do tend to respond positively to an author’s work when I spend more time with their work (reading two, or three, or more of their works, or re-reading just one), so perhaps I should have seen this coming.

Nonetheless, having read four of Hiromi Goto‘s books this month, she has nestled into my MRE list, and I think that Half World might end up on my ATF list too (which only exists in my mind at this stage but is rooted in my annual lists of favourite reads, which you can access from the tabs above).

Half World was written as a cross-over novel, one appropriate for young adults (for a slightly older audience than The Water of Possibility’s readers) but equally appropriate for adults to read.

Indeed, I think the philosophical aspects of Half World itself would be intuitively appreciated by younger readers but, for adults, this is the source of considerable food-for-thought.

(If you eat food in Half World, are you doomed to stay in Half World?)

(Did you ever wonder if Persephone would have rescued Demeter if the lava slipper had been on the other foot?)

Yup, it’s mythic, it’s folklore-y, it’s fairy-tale-ish: it’s absolutely, without-a-doubt a perfect choice for the Once Upon a Time Reading Challenge, although it would be fantastic read through a feminist lens for the Women Unbound Reading Challenge as well. Because…

G is for Girl power. Each of her books has had a remarkable female character at the heart of it (often more than one) and Melanie Tamaki in Half World is no exception. Well, unexceptional in terms of the author’s propensities, but exceptional, certainly, in the wider world of Girl-ness . Melanie is definitely not a Disney-fied, Barbie-like heroine and, if you have had your fill of those, you will l-o-v-e watching her negotiate the challenges in this story.

“It was not much of a plan; she knew that. In television shows and novels the heroes always had an amazing way to fight their enemies. They made elaborate traps out of ropes and twigs or built bombs out of baking soda and batteries. They apprenticed with a witch or a sorcerer and developed their special powers.
All Melanie had was herself.
No, she corrected. She had allies, here, and back home.”

O is for Out-of-the-Ordinary. I’m going to steal the Nalo Hopkinson blurb for O: “Half World is Boschean delight à la Goto: a magical, madcap, and deliciously creepy tale of tribulations, terror and triumph; a girl-power adventure in screaming jelly-toned colours.” (I really didn’t steal the G for Girl-power from her: I’d forgotten she’d said it too!) If she had an ‘E’ in her name, Extraordinary would have worked too.

T is for Tenderness. There are some really gruesome bits and some heart-breaking moments, but there are so many hopeful and touching moments too. And, because I know that many readers take his opinion straight to their favourite bookshop, here’s what Neil Gaiman has to say about Half World, which fits it to a T.

Click the beautiful image for the Once Upon a Time Challenge Site

Half World is a haunting combination of a coming-of-age novel and a spiritual quest, a mad funhouse of horrors and a tale of redemption and love. Wonderfully odd, and quite unforgettable.“ (See, I could have stolen his O is for Odd, but I didn’t: I do Occasionally have a thought all my Own.)

O is for Once-Upon-a-Time. I heard Hiromi Goto read from Half World less than one week after I had finished this novel (purely accidental, but how lucky) and her performance was very strong. Her talent as a storyteller is solid and the tale felt both fresh and timeless when told in her voice. I was tempted to use this O for Original, but it also somehow feels like an Old tale, albeit one in a new skin. I hope this passage gives a hint of that, but it’s the cumulative effect that really brings out the magical quality of the storytelling.

“Melanie didn’t think. She ran. She leapt onto the path, her foot landing on the back of a flying crow. The smooth softness of sleek feathers. The oily slipperiness beneath her shoes. The flying bird sagged beneath her weight, and just as it began to veer away Melanie leapt off, stepping down as the next crow flew in to take its place in the path. On and on, Melanie leapt. She could not run faster than the birds’ flight. The bridge existed only beneath her and behind her.”

It’s just wonder+ful. Buy one for yourself, one for a reading friend, and one for a girl, who might not know yet just how much she needs to read this. Then read it. And then you’ll understand exactly how thrilled I was to hear her say that she’s working on a companion novel.

I know, I know, I should have taken that G for Gushing. But I’m not the only one who’s seriously impressed. It’s been longlisted for the 2010 British World Fantasy Award and nominated for the 2010 White Pine Award too. Take note!